The Theory of GOP Marketing

by Fred Schwarz

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how Republicans need to improve their appeal to women, especially unmarried ones. Commentators offer various advice; a longtime Republican strategist says “GOP congressional leaders should unveil a comprehensive women’s agenda” and “legislation that has a positive [message] that will help female voters in an attempt to soften their image.” The RNC’s much-hyped Growth and Opportunity Project cautions that:

Republicans need to talk about people and families, not just numbers and statistics. . . . Women need to hear what our motive is . . . Those are things that cannot be communicated well in graphs and charts — and we need to do a better job communicating why our policies are better, while using female spokespeople to do it.

And pollsters agree that single women are the key segment.

Although I’m no political consultant, I may be able to help with this, because before my recent marriage, I spent several decades trying to appeal to single women, with a distinct lack of success. I wouldn’t exactly say I learned a lot about them; if I had, it wouldn’t have taken so long to get married (or at least it wouldn’t have seemed so long). But I did learn a lot about what doesn’t work, and one thing I figured out pretty quick is that unmarried women know when someone is trying to feed them a line. They may know and not care, but they know.

And a lot of the ideas being offered for how the GOP can appeal to women make the party sound like an eager but clumsy bachelor: “Oh, you’re female? Well, you must be interested in stuffed animals — and wait till I tell you about Senator Graham’s Stuffed Animal Subsidy Initiative . . .” That level of sincerity gets you the nice-try smile and the suddenly remembered morning appointment.

On the other hand, I’ve heard reports of guys getting good results by appealing to a woman’s intelligence. For some reason, this never worked very well for me (perhaps it was the bowtie), but I’m told it can be quite successful if you at least sound sincere.

What all this suggests is that the Republican party’s appeal to women should be same as its appeal to everyone. Are girls not supposed to be interested in a bunch of boring budget numbers because math class is tough? If she doesn’t know the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion, she’s probably a committed Democrat anyway.

Among other things, the GOP is not built for making narrowly focused appeals. So when people say the party should adopt such-and-such policy initiative, or soften its opposition to so-and-so, in order to capture women’s votes, it’s like a consultant telling a silverware company that their spoons will appeal to a whole new market if they turn them into sporks.

The Democrats are a political party in the classic sense, a coalition of disparate interests that unite to scratch each other’s backs and pick everyone else’s pockets. But granting special favors to specific groups is contrary to conservatives’ core beliefs, so even if some clever operative came up with a killer Free Market Grrrlz platform, the rank-and-file’s hearts would not be in it — and when your heart is not in the right place, just as when your eyes are not in the right place, women can tell. Trust me on that.

Being a conservative is all about facing hard truths, and the fundamental hard truth about dating is that the best strategy is the simplest one: Just Be Yourself. This applies even when yourself is a guy who recites the 1988 Pittsburgh Pirates’ batting order at parties and decorates his apartment with Doctor Who bobblehead dolls — because when you try to be somebody else, not only will you do a lousy job of it, but even if somehow your imitation is true to life, the character you’re playing probably isn’t what she’s looking for either.

So the best way for the GOP to appeal to women is to Just Be Yourself. Sell fiscal responsibility, individual freedom and initiative, law and order, market-based solutions, a strong defense, and all the other points that distinguish our beliefs from the Democrats’ “but wait, there’s more!” sales pitch. Respect women’s intelligence, trust them to be smart enough to appreciate sound policy, and don’t expect to win them over with shiny gifts that you had to hock your principles to afford.

Oh, and do ditch the bowtie.

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